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What a FEMA Determination Letter Means

The survivors of the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, in Alabama and Mississippi, and in all other states currently recovering from disasters have been through a lot and we are committed to helping them every step of the way.

When survivors apply for individual disaster aid through FEMA, their needs are assessed based on a number of factors, based on eligibility requirements laid out under federal law. After a survivor registers with FEMA, they receive a letter from us explaining the status of their application, and whether or not they will receive assistance.

We know the recipients of these letters may have questions about what they mean, especially when coping with tragic and heartbreaking circumstances. We wanted to take a few minutes to explain what options people have when receiving these notices:

If you receive a letter from FEMA saying you are not eligible for assistance, it does not necessarily mean your case is closed. If your letter says you’re not eligible for assistance, it also tells you how to appeal the decision or what additional information you need to provide to FEMA, in order for your case to be reviewed again.

Before you begin your appeal process, read the letter carefully – and ask for help if you don’t understand any part of it – FEMA may only need you to provide additional information.

Sometimes people do not qualify for financial help right away. For instance, FEMA may not have received information on your insurance settlement. Under federal law, FEMA cannot duplicate assistance that comes from insurance benefits or other government sources, but FEMA’s initial determination of ineligibility may change if private insurance or other government assistance is not sufficient to cover all the eligible damage.

Some of the reasons for an initial turn down can be:
  • You might not have gotten your insurance settlement;
  • You may not have given FEMA all the information we need;
  • You haven’t given us proof of ownership or residence;
  • You may not have returned the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan application;
  • You may not have provided records that showed the damaged property was the primary residence at the time of the disaster;
  • You may not have signed essential documents.

Bottom line – these letters are the start of a conversation between you and FEMA, and not the end.

You can call the helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 or visit a disaster recovery center, where you can talk with someone about your particular situation. Either way, you can get more information about what to do next.

And you can give information to FEMA that might change our determination about your status. So again, everyone should read their letters carefully, ask questions, ask for help, and tell us if you think we got it wrong. We are here to serve you – the disaster survivor – and it is your right to ask us to reconsider our decision.
 

News of the Day: Update on Joplin Recovery

We wanted to share two stories from Joplin, Mo. about the ongoing recovery efforts:
 

As the recovery continues in Joplin, we'd like to say "thank you" to the entire emergency management team - state and local officials, the private sector, voluntary, community, and faith-based groups, and especially the public - as we work together to support disaster survivors and the affected community.

We will continue to provide updates on this blog, so check back often.

Midwest Storms Recap 5: Overview of Federal Family's Support For States' Response Efforts

Since the deadly tornadoes first struck parts of the country last week, the federal government has been in constant contact with all of the impacted states as they responded to and began recovery efforts from these devastating storms.

The administration, through FEMA, is committed to bringing all of the resources of the federal family to bear to support Missouri and the other states devastated by the deadly tornadoes and storms this weekend.

Through our regional offices in Kansas City, MO and Chicago, IL, has been in close contact and coordination with the states since the storms first struck, and has already deployed staff and resources to the impacted areas in Missouri to help with response needs.

Here is a recap of the support efforts of the federal family today:

Friday, May 27

  • As of 7 am on May 27, more than 2,500 Missourians affected by the Sunday tornadoes in the Joplin area, in Jasper and Newton counties, have applied for assistance, and more than $2.8 million in assistance has been approved. Tornado survivors in those counties can apply for federal disaster aid, either by phone, online, or on their mobile phones. To register, survivors can call (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585, apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov or apply on their smartphones at m.fema.gov.
  • FEMA has a second Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) open in the Joplin area. The center is staffed by state, voluntary agency and federal personnel to help those whose homes or businesses were affected by recent storms and tornadoes. At a DRC, representatives from FEMA, state and other agencies meet one on one with disaster survivors, explain assistance programs and help survivors apply for disaster aid. For locations and hours log onto www.fema.gov/drclocator.
  • As a result of collaboration with members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, areas near Joplin are displaying a FEMA disaster assistance message that includes the FEMA teleregistration number, the disaster assistance website, a TTY number and a reference to multilingual operators. Similar digital billboards are also displayed in parts of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, in areas affected by severe storms last month.
  • FEMA personnel join state and local officials to begin joint preliminary damage assessments in Oklahoma.
  • FEMA personnel join state and local officials to begin joint preliminary damage assessments in Franklin County, Arkansas.

See yesterday's recap of federal support efforts on the blog.

Alabama: Supporting Recovery Efforts & Reaching Survivors

Author: 

Birmingham, AL, May 20, 2011 -- At the FEMA/State Joint Field Office, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Bryne and State Coordinating Officer Jeff Byard refer to a map showing damage areas from the deadly April tornado. FEMA and the state are partners in disaster response.
Birmingham, AL, May 20, 2011 -- At the FEMA/State Joint Field Office, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Bryne and State Coordinating Officer Jeff Byard refer to a map showing damage areas from the deadly April tornado. FEMA and the state are partners in disaster response.

One month after the devastating tornado outbreak in Alabama, our goal remains the same: helping the state, its communities and its people recover from the damage and dislocation caused by the storms.

Our priorities are a livable home, removal of debris and rebuilding of homes, businesses and public facilities. This effort is guided by commitment and compassion.

The tornadoes killed 238 people. The memory of these losses compels us to make sure a rebuilt
Alabama is stronger and safer.

It’s been truly inspiring to see the outpouring of support from Alabamians and those around the country – whether it’s sending a monetary donation to a voluntary agency, donating time to pitch in with the cleanup efforts or praying for disaster survivors.

As the massive debris cleanup continues, we are encouraging those in Alabama affected by the
tornadoes and severe storms that struck on April 27 to register for disaster assistance.
To date, FEMA has approved $44.1 million in disaster relief for individuals and households. There have been more than 21,000 visits to disaster recovery centers, where survivors can get more information on the recovery process.

And through the hard work of our community relations specialists, we’ve been getting the word out to residents in both densely populated and rural areas about applying for assistance.

Pleasant Grove, AL, May 21, 2011 -- A Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) opens in the community of Pleasant Grove after tornadoes struck the area. FEMA is present at the DRC for in person assistance with registration and has many programs and support available to the individuals and business owners who were in the impacted areas.
Pleasant Grove, AL, May 21, 2011 -- A Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) opens in the community of Pleasant Grove after tornadoes struck the area. FEMA is present at the DRC for in person assistance with registration and has many programs and support available to the individuals and business owners who were in the impacted areas.

Steele, AL, May 21, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialists Dianne McKinnis and Patty Wiedmer encourage FEMA registration to attendees of a Bluegrass festival at Horsepens 40. This was a great venue to meet a lot of people in a very rural area.
Steele, AL, May 21, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialists Dianne McKinnis and Patty Wiedmer encourage FEMA registration to attendees of a Bluegrass festival at Horsepens 40. This was a great venue to meet a lot of people in a very rural area.

So if you’re a disaster survivor, or know someone who sustained damages as a result of the April 27 tornadoes, please share the following ways to apply for assistance:

  • Call 800-621-FEMA (3362) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., local time. Assistance is available in many languages. TTY 800-462-7585 is available for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,
  • Visit a disaster recovery center,
  • Use a smartphone or tablet go to m.fema.gov, or
  • Apply online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
     

And I wanted to share more photos of the emergency management team:


Pratt City, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Randy Luster of the Small Business Administration (SBA) encourages a survivor of the April 27th tornado to register with FEMA and the SBA to help with his recovery. Many people do not realize the SBA offers loan assistance to individuals as well as businesses after disasters.
Pratt City, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Randy Luster of the Small Business Administration (SBA) encourages a survivor of the April 27th tornado to register with FEMA and the SBA to help with his recovery. Many people do not realize the SBA offers loan assistance to individuals as well as businesses after disasters.


Pratt City, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Randy Luster of the Small Business Administration (SBA) encourages a survivor of the April 27th tornado to register with FEMA and the SBA to help with his recovery. Many people do not realize the SBA offers loan assistance to individuals as well as businesses after disasters.
Pratt City, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Randy Luster of the Small Business Administration (SBA) encourages a survivor of the April 27th tornado to register with FEMA and the SBA to help with his recovery. Many people do not realize the SBA offers loan assistance to individuals as well as businesses after disasters.


Sipsey, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Members of the Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Association are helping a homeowner cut and pull debris to the street for county pickup. Faith-based volunteers are important partners with FEMA in helping survivors recover from the deadly April tornado.
Sipsey, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Members of the Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Association are helping a homeowner cut and pull debris to the street for county pickup. Faith-based volunteers are important partners with FEMA in helping survivors recover from the deadly April tornado.


Jasper, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Salvation Army workers Terry NeSmith, Deb Wilcutt, and Myrtle Whitcomb distribute food and household goods to storm survivors at the Salvation Army disaster relief distribution center which opened today. Recipients can receive a voucher for $300 which can then be redeemed at the center for emergency supplies. FEMA and the Salvation Army are partners in helping survivors recover from the deadly April tornado.
Jasper, AL, May 24, 2011 -- Salvation Army workers Terry NeSmith, Deb Wilcutt, and Myrtle Whitcomb distribute food and household goods to storm survivors at the Salvation Army disaster relief distribution center which opened today. Recipients can receive a voucher for $300 which can then be redeemed at the center for emergency supplies. FEMA and the Salvation Army are partners in helping survivors recover from the deadly April tornado.


Phil Campbell, AL, May 14, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialists Laura Philpot and Tom Violette speak with Mike Yoder of the Christian Aide Ministries Disaster Service Rapid Response Team of Tennessee. Faith based organizations like this provide critical immediate services to storm survivors and are FEMA partners in recovery efforts for those affected by the April tornado.
Phil Campbell, AL, May 14, 2011 -- FEMA Community Relations Specialists Laura Philpot and Tom Violette speak with Mike Yoder of the Christian Aide Ministries Disaster Service Rapid Response Team of Tennessee. Faith based organizations like this provide critical immediate services to storm survivors and are FEMA partners in recovery efforts for those affected by the April tornado.


Tuscaloosa, AL, May 12, 2011 -- Red Cross workers are present at today's Hispanic community meeting. Red Cross and FEMA are partners in responding to disasters such as the April storms and tornado here.
Tuscaloosa, AL, May 12, 2011 -- Red Cross workers are present at today's Hispanic community meeting. Red Cross and FEMA are partners in responding to disasters such as the April storms and tornado here.

From Admin. Fugate: How to Help Joplin

The Administrator just returned from Joplin, Mo. and recorded this video to talk about the best ways to help the people of Joplin.




Resources:

Alabama: FEMA Housing Provides Much-Needed Shelter

Author: 

One month ago, much of the town of Phil Campbell in Franklin County was destroyed and many residents tragically lost their lives from a series of tornadoes that swept through Alabama, leaving many residents in the community homeless. As each day passes, we continue to admire the strength of these communities as they work together to help their neighbors recover.

Since the tornadoes struck, we’ve been working closely with our federal, state and local partners to meet the needs of disaster survivors. One way FEMA helps survivors after a disaster is by working with our state and local partners to help them find temporary housing for those who have lost their homes, like many in Phil Campbell.

This temporary housing assistance comes in many forms depending on the needs in the community:

  • We maintain a list of available properties at the FEMA Housing Portal to help individuals and families, who have been displaced by a disaster, find a place to live.
  • Money is available to rent a different place to live or a government-provided temporary housing unit may be available when there are no rental properties.
  • In rural areas where no rental properties are available, such as Phil Campbell, we deploy temporary housing units to disaster survivors. These are available to survivors for up to 18 months as they transition to more permanent housing.

Just one example in Phil Campbell is Savannah Swinney and her daughter. They recently moved into their fully furnished unit. In addition to furniture, each unit came with “living kits” donated by organizations such as the American Red Cross, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mr. Coffee , and the People of Saudi Arabia (see a photo below).

Shown below are a few photos that explain some of our Individual Assistance Housing procedures. For more information, see this page on disaster assistance.

Inspectors look at housing units.
Once a unit is installed, state law requires an Alabama Manufactured Home Commission inspector certify it is suitable for living. A final inspection is done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure all health and safety requirements are met.

FEMA officials meet with disaster survivors.
The first resident of this FEMA temporary housing unit in Phil Campbell signed a lease on May 14. Present are from left; Howard Hutcheson, Franklin County Commissioner; the new tenant and daughter; Johnny Morrow, Alabama Legislator, District 18; FEMA Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist Jim Woodard; and Mayor Jerry Mays.

interior of a housing unit.
Interior view of FEMA temporary housing unit. Eligible residents sign agreements for up to 18 months as they find more permanent housing.

items from a living kit are shown.
Items from a “living kit” before they are unpacked. The kits contain basic items donated from Mr. Coffee, American Red Cross, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and bedding from the People of Saudi Arabia to help new residents settle in.

orientation of a new resident.
As part of orientation for the new tenant of this temporary housing unit, FEMA Individual Assistance Housing Specialist Don Norman points out appliance information.

orientation of a new resident.
As part of orientation for the new tenant of this temporary housing unit, FEMA Individual Assistance Housing Specialist Don Norman points out NOAA weather radio information, provided with each unit.

Midwest Storms Recap 4: Overview of Federal Family's Support For States' Response Efforts

Administrator Fugate meets with a firefighter.
Joplin, MO, May 26, 2011 -- Administrator Craig Fugate surveys a damaged fire station with a Joplin firefighter.

Since the deadly tornadoes first struck parts of the country last week, the federal government has been in constant contact with all of the impacted states as they responded to and began recovery efforts from these devastating storms.

The administration, through FEMA, is committed to bringing all of the resources of the federal family to bear to support Missouri and the other states devastated by the deadly tornadoes and storms this weekend.

Through our regional offices in Kansas City, MO and Chicago, IL, has been in close contact and coordination with the states since the storms first struck, and has already deployed staff and resources to the impacted areas in Missouri to help with response needs.

Here is a recap of the support efforts of the federal family today:

Thursday, May 26

  • At the President's direction, White House National Security Staff Senior Director for Response Policy Dabney Kern, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute, Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Bill Corr, Small Business Administration Associate Administrator James Rivera and Department of Commerce DOC/ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA Assistant Secretary of Commerce Dr. Kathy Sullivan join Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, in Joplin to tour the damage and meet with state and local officials.
  • The NFL Players Association sends current and former St. Louis Rams football players to Joplin to participate in community outreach activities with FEMA and the American Red Cross. 
  • In coordination with LodgeNet hotel video network, FEMA disaster assistance videos begin to air on hotel room welcome channels across Missouri.
  • As of 7 a.m., more than 1,900 Missourians affected by the Sunday tornadoes in the Joplin area, in Jasper and Newton counties, have applied for assistance, and more than $1.3 million in assistance has been approved. Tornado survivors in those counties can apply for federal disaster aid, either by phone, online, or on their mobile phones. To register, survivors can call (800) 621-3362 / TTY (800) 462-7585, apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov or apply on their smartphones at m.fema.gov
  • Community relations teams remain on the ground meeting with disaster survivors in the Joplin area, canvassing neighborhoods, visiting shelters and supporting the operation of disaster recovery centers.
  • FEMA personnel join state and local officials to begin joint preliminary damage assessments in Hennepin County, Minnesota. These damage assessments are the first step in helping a governor determine whether the scope of the damages are beyond what the state is capable of handling and if additional federal assistance is needed.
  • FEMA personnel join state and local officials to begin joint preliminary damage assessments in Johnson County, Arkansas. 

See yesterday's recap of federal support efforts on the blog.

Deputy Admin. Serino From Missouri: Riding Out A Storm

Author: 

One of the best parts of my job at FEMA is getting to talk with people all over the country about how they can – and do – prepare themselves, their families, and their communities for disaster. There are so many grass-roots, community-driven preparedness and resilience efforts underway in our country – it’s a topic I never get tired of listening to or sharing ideas about. What I have been lucky that I have not had to do very often, though, is follow my own advice about taking specific steps to stay safe during the moments when disaster strikes.

Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri changed that.

I had just spent two days in Joplin, Missouri supporting response and recovery in the wake of one of the nation’s deadliest tornadoes. I’d seen first-hand the horrendous devastation and talked with countless everyday heroes. I found myself wanting to stay longer, but I also looked forward to fulfilling a previous commitment I’d made to speak in Kansas City at a national conference of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) – some of the most important members of the nation’s emergency management team.

I stopped at our FEMA Region VII office to talk with staff and to catch up on some work before joining the conference. Turns out, Mother Nature had different ideas.

I’d only been there a couple of hours when the weather suddenly became very unstable. The next thing I knew, FEMA staff alerted me that there were possible tornadoes nearby and I needed to move with them to a safe area within the building. Outdoor warning sirens began to sound. I thought to myself,

Tornadoes?? What???? I’m from Boston. I know hurricanes. I know blizzards. But we don’t have tornadoes there too often. This is going to be interesting.

Despite the potential perils, I felt surprisingly calm. At FEMA, we’re in the business of disasters. Many of our staff are disaster survivors themselves. We preach preparedness. But are we really ready?

I quickly learned that in this case, we were. As an agency, we’re always telling others to prepare, plan, and stay informed. That includes understanding weather terminology, monitoring media in times of potentially bad weather, using a NOAA weather radio, having a safe place to take shelter and practicing an emergency plan.

When the real pressure was on us, it was heartening to see members of the FEMA team practice what we preach. The region’s emergency watch officers detected the dangerous weather. As I moved with more than 100 of our employees to the safe area on a lower floor, I heard the sounds of weather radios. The team was orderly and calm. I was proud and humbled.

We sheltered together for more than an hour as several reported funnels in the area dipped down and back up. One possible tornado was reported a mere six blocks away. We used the time to informally catch up as a group on our agency’s activities and goals, and to check on our families. One staffer even took advantage of the ‘captive audience’ and delivered a Continuity of Operations refresher course as we waited for the ‘all clear.’ Hmm … very creative.

We were fortunate enough to get through the situation without harm. Sadly, some Missouri communities were not. If FEMA is needed, we’ll be there to help.

As for me, I will forever remember this as a day that our passion for preparedness counted – again.

Quick Update 2: Supporting the States’ Response and Recovery

Editor's Note: This blog post was updated on May 26 at 3:35 p.m. EDT.

Officials meet in Joplin, Missouri.
Joplin, MO, May 25, 2011 -- Administrator Craig Fugate (second from the left) and Rev. David Myers (left), director of the DHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, meet with Dr. Kevin Ezell (second from right), president, Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, and an unidentified member of the Southern Baptist response team, in Joplin, Mo. The group is meeting inside a Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicle, equipped with phone and video communications systems.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families in Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and other states impacted by severe storms and tornadoes. As of this morning, we continue to support the states’ response and recovery efforts in Missouri, Minnesota and the other areas affected by severe weather.

At the direction of President Obama, senior administration officials from across the federal family traveled to Joplin to meet with state and local officials, assess the damage from the May 15 devastating tornadoes, to ensure the state is receiving all the support needed for response and recovery operations. Officials from the White House, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, Small Business Administration, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined Administrator Craig Fugate who has been on the ground in Joplin since Monday.

Current and former players with the St. Louis Rams are arriving in Joplin to visit a Red Cross shelter and tour the damage. The players are traveling with DeMaurice Smith, executive director, National Football League Players Association, which is one of many private sector partners that helps work with disaster survivors and lifts the spirits in communities reeling from tragedy. We thank them for their visit to Joplin, and for all the work they do to help people and communities rebuild.

Today’s forecast from the National Weather Service is calling for the potential of severe weather across much of the U.S., covering an area from Louisiana up to New Hampshire. Severe storms are possible parts of the Great Plains as well, stretching from Montana to Nebraska.

If your area has the potential for severe weather, be sure to stay updated with your local forecast and continue to listen to the direction of local officials. You can also take steps now to get prepared for severe weather at www.Ready.gov.

We will continue to provide our latest updates on this blog. See this blog post for the latest on the role of the federal government.

Other links
- Blog post on how to help disaster survivors in Joplin
- Information on helping survivors after a disaster

Continuing to Monitor Severe Weather

Editor's Note, updated on May 26, 2011: an update to this blog post has been posted.

Through our regional offices, we're closely monitoring the severe weather and tornado watches and warnings as they continue. We are ready to support our state partners and the entire emergency management team as they prepare for and respond to the severe weather.

Here are some tips to remain safe:

  • A tornado watch means a tornado is possible in your area.
  • A tornado warning is when a tornado is actually occurring, take shelter immediately.
  • Listen to local and state officials for emergency information and instructions, and follow local news reports for the latest updates in your area.

For more tornado safety tips, visit Ready.gov/tornadoes or http://m.fema.gov on your smartphone. You can also visit mobile.weather.gov on your smartphone for local weather forecasts.

 

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